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New ISM study spotlights “enormously concerning levels” of discrimination and harassment in the music sector

By | Published on Thursday 29 September 2022


The Incorporated Society Of Musicians has published a new report on discrimination and harassment in the music sector based on a survey of 660 people working in the industry, the results of which, the organisation says, “paint a picture of unsafe workplaces where perpetrators face no repercussions and there is a scandalous lack of action by contractors and employers”.

The new report – ‘Dignity At Work 2’ – follows on from an earlier study by ISM that was published in 2018. Since then there has been a much higher profile debate within the music industry about the need to eradicate discrimination and harassment within the sector, although the new study says that that increased debate is yet to result in tangible improvements.

In fact, ISM says, its new study “suggests that over the past four years, since our similar survey in 2018, the prevalence of discrimination and inappropriate behaviours in the music sector has increased”.

Of the 660 people who responded to the latest survey, 66% said they had experienced some form of discrimination while working in the music sector, 76% of workers within studio and live music event settings experienced discrimination, and 58% of the discrimination was identified as sexual harassment.

Reporting discrimination and harassment is particularly challenging for those who are self-employed. And, of course, the music industry has an unusually high number of self-employed practitioners, including most artists and songwriters.

Of those who had experienced discrimination but were self-employed, 86% said that they did not report the discrimination, often because it wasn’t actually clear to whom such a report would even be made.

ISM says: “The survey results are clear – being a freelancer exposes musicians to unsafe workplaces where it is extremely difficult to raise concerns. If concerns are raised, then the person making the complaint invariably suffers repercussions rather than the perpetrator”.

Although, it’s important to note, similar issues do also apply to those in formal employment who experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace. “The culture of fear extends to those who are employed”, the ISM adds, “and if concerns are raised then this part of the workforce can also face victimisation, even though this is unlawful”.

The report makes a number of recommendations for the industry and law-makers. In terms of changes the industry could make itself, there is a call for much wider training on these issues, and for trade bodies to take a much more active role in policing their members.

As for possible changes to the law, ISM calls for reforms to the Equality Act 2010 to protect freelancers, reinstating rights around third-party harassment and extending the period of time to bring claims to a tribunal.

ISM President Vick Bain, who co-authored the report, says: “‘Dignity At Work 2′ uncovers enormously concerning levels of discrimination and harassment in the music sector. Everybody deserves to be safe at work and it’s a scandal that our brilliant music workforce is being let down in this way”.

“As we highlight in the report”, she continues, “there are solutions to the problems we face. There are meaningful actions that both the government and the music sector can and should take to eradicate these problems. We need to take action now because we don’t want to have to highlight these issues again in another four years time”.

ISM CEO Deborah Annetts adds: “All those in leadership roles in the music sector need to work together to formulate the most effective solutions to tackle the unsafe workplaces which the ISM’s latest ‘Dignity’ report portrays”.

“The music workforce is primarily freelance which makes it particularly vulnerable to victimisation if concerns or complaints are made”, she goes on. “This must stop. Those who are discriminated against must feel safe to come forward and raise their concerns. If we do not engender this cultural shift then nothing will change”.

Music charity Help Musicians launched a new helpline earlier this year to support people experiencing bullying and harassment within the UK music industry. Its CEO James Ainscough says of the new ISM report: “The depressing survey results in this report show starkly that there has not been the positive change we hoped for in the last five years”.

“We need a shift in culture and this insightful report from ISM makes some practical recommendations towards that”, he adds. “The vast majority of us in the music industry long for a day when the Help Musicians Bullying & Harassment helpline is no longer needed, so we must work together with urgency to create an environment where discrimination, harassment and victimisation have no place”.

You can download the ISM report and access other resources here. And you can access information on the Help Musicians helpline here.